February 2022 – Drew Theological School, in partnership with Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, based at Brandeis University, hosted Caring for Interfaith Caregivers, a project to support recovery and resilience among chaplains across faith traditions in New Jersey. The project was funded through a grant from the Russell Berrie Foundation.
The virtual half-day event closed a four-week facilitated virtual conversation circle with chaplains living and/or working in the state of New Jersey. “Together we will establish and strengthen our New Jersey network of chaplains,” said Tanya Linn Bennett, associate dean for vocation and formation and university chaplain at Drew, who organized the event.
Betsy Stone, educator at Hebrew Union College and retired clinical psychologist, delivered the keynote address.
Stone, who encouraged audience interaction and incorporated self-reflective healing moments throughout her talk, specializes in the effects of trauma on the brain and body.
Trauma is not defined solely as a negative experience, Stone explained. For example, the birth of a first child can be as impactful as the death of a parent. “Trauma should be thought of as events in our lives that change our everyday functioning,” she said.
Stone broke down the definition of trauma through the lens of our current transitional climate as we continue cope with COVID-19, and racial and political unrest. “We’ve had very little time to rest and reset, which is necessary,” said Stone. “A life of trauma changes the trajectory of our lives. We are different for having had a trauma.” It is believed in psychological communities that communal trauma changes the trajectory of history.
“Holding other people’s pain is truly holy work."
Growth and resilience are natural responses to trauma. Resilience forms when life is temporarily altered, but ultimately unchanged. Growth, which is transformative, arises from change. “Helping professions are supposed to help people structure and restructure growth—not help people become resilient,” said Stone.
Chaplains are prone to experiencing secondary trauma—in addition to their own personal trauma. Further, those in helping professions can hold the pain of others to avoid their own. “Holding other people’s pain is truly holy work,” said Stone.
Stone suggested that the deprivation of not being able to gather in person may be more difficult for clergy than for congregants.
The group broke into virtual working breakout sessions. A closing prayer was given by Donna Owasu-Ansah T’10, chaplain at JFK Medical Center and associate minister of New Hope Baptist Church.